Local reaction mixed on new teacher policy

KINGMAN - Local and state education officials have stated their positions about a policy adopted Monday by the Arizona State Board of Education that provides stricter penalties for teachers resigning without approval from their local districts.

The action is expected to keep teachers from quitting during a school year. Violators would risk suspension of their teaching certificate.

"This is long overdue," said Maurice Flores, superintendent of the Kingman Unified School District.

"We had about 20 teachers hold off signing contracts this past year, and 15 resigned after June 1. That put us in a real bind when you think you have someone signed up and come August they are not here and we have to go out and find new teachers."

Susan Chan, district administrator at the Kingman Academy of Learning, said she can understand the board is being prompted to do all it can by districts struggling to find and retain qualified teachers.

"I can't recall of a teacher with us resigning during the course of a year," Chan said. "It certainly would be difficult to find a replacement."

Flores said there have been a few past cases in the KUSD of teachers leaving during the school year, often when their spouse is transferred. The teacher normally fulfills his or her contract and stays until the end of the fiscal year.

Replacing an elementary school teacher is not normally a huge problem, Flores said. It is much tougher to replace a math, science or special education teacher at the middle or high school level and keep those students "on track."

Tami Alvarado teaches sixth grade students at Mt. Tipton School in Dolan Springs. She also is president of the Kingman Education Association, which has about 180 members.

Alvarado had not heard about the action of the state Board of Education until Wednesday. She spoke with several other teachers at her school to gauge reaction to it.

"The KEA feels this policy will be held on a case-by-case basis and an unforeseeable circumstance (for a resignation) still has a chance for no action," Alvarado said. "But it will hold teachers more accountable to stay within their contracts and not quit on a whim."

The policy should be good for accountability and teacher focus, she said.

While she is not personally aware of any case of a teacher quitting in the middle of a school year, a family emergency or case in which a spouse takes a job elsewhere and keeping the family together are legitimate reasons for a teacher leaving his or her position early, Alvarado said.

Resignation will not necessarily be discouraged by the policy, which she expects to be applied on a case-by-case basis, Alvarado said.

"We understand the frustration that led to this action," said Andrew Morrill, vice president of the Arizona Education Association. "The thing is we hope the board would maintain a high degree of flexibility and examine individual cases where teachers face anything from an emergency to unexpected change in their situation.

"A second point is this protects the district at a certain level from breaking contracts to leave. But what protects teachers from a district that ends their employment for some reason?

"We maintain that letters of intent are binding on both sides. Districts say those letters are binding on teachers but not the district."

The AEA has more than 50,000 members.

Morrill said the AEA wants to work with districts and be proactive. Agreements are needed that are good for students, and that means creating a stable sustainable structure and keeping qualified teachers in the classroom.

In the past, a teacher resigning could expect a letter of censure placed in his or her record. Under the new policy, a local board determines if a teacher resigned without its permission. The teacher then has 30 days to appeal and have another meeting with the local board.

If the teacher loses the appeal, the matter would go before the state Board of Education for review.

"A letter of censure is considered serious typically for a disciplinary matter, not for resigning in the middle of a year," Flores said. "A teacher would quit and a few choice words were exchanged."

A letter of censure does not stop a district from hiring that teacher because it has no bearing on his or her certificate, Chan said.

But is suspension of a teaching certificate fair punishment for violating one's contract?

"I find it excessive," Morrill said. "We're going to take a look at statutes that talk about it.

"Revoking a certificate ends someone's ability to teach for something unrelated to classroom performance or their conduct as an employee. It should be limited to ethics or violations of law and this does not fall into that category."

Chan agreed the penalty is too harsh.

"In the education world now I can understand why it was done," Chan said. "I'm not sure the state Board is in a position to be flexible about many things."

Flores said his past experiences with cases of teachers quitting during the term of their contracts is that a fair punishment is withholding 2-4 weeks pay. That would be more to his liking now than taking away a teacher's certificate.